JARO: Enabling the Disabled

28 March 2016

The first of its kind in Malaysia, JARO or the Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation was set up in 1952 for tuberculosis patients, before settling into its current form of a nonprofit organisation specialising in the rehabilitation and training of the disabled. Offering workshops in tailoring, basketry and bindery, results are quality items made with local materials like batik, rattan, and recycled products.

Each of the workshops are run by supervisors, sometimes long-time employees of JARO that have been working there for decades. The training takes between six months to two years, depending on the workshop and the ability of the trainees. The products range from home furnishing items, purses and bags, cooking utensils, baskets, boxes, notebooks and other paper products, as well as handwoven baskets and furniture.

Basket weaver Jailani bin Mohd, 52, is patient as he weaves his baskets while chatting about his life as a JARO employee. “I joined JARO in 1986, and have been perfecting this trade since then. It has really made me feel independent since my paralysis as a child [through a fall].” Making three to four baskets a day, Jailani is meticulous and the precisely weaved baskets are a testament to his steady hands.

Madam Lee Lai Ying, an Administrator at JARO, explains that currently there are some 50 employees and craftspeople employed under JARO. They range from the visually impaired, to the physically challenged. “We have this centre, as a testament to our values that have carried through since we started. We want the disabled to have dignity and independence in their lives, and JARO provides that with training and employment.”

Those that are currently in JARO come from all walks of life, through word-of-mouth referrals and from the Welfare Department. Kaygara Vasu, 68, is one of the more senior employees and has been working in the bindery for 24 years. “I like the environment here, they let us do the work at our own pace.” He explains that after his posture started declining due to his scoliosis, and he was terminated from a factory, JARO came as his best bet. “We make really good quality products here, as we take our time, so the books turn out very nicely, because they are all hand bound.” At 68, he is still not considering retirement as the standard of living is too high. “I’m grateful that JARO is the one place that I can keep working at, despite my age.”

The bulk of JARO’s business comes from the government (hospital cards and ledgers for example), or legal offices that require the binding services for legal journals and books. “All these books are binded by hand! Pages and book spines are sewn by hand and then using a letterpress, they are also hand-embossed,” says Madam Lee with pride. “Public response to JARO has been very good. The products are sold both at JARO and at public bazaars. The Johor community are very supportive towards JARO’s efforts, as we have a long history of rehabilitative work, and are quite accomplished in what we do,” says Madam Lee.

However, funding remains a issue that looms over JARO annually. “Our funding comes from both the State and Federal budget, but only makes up for 17% (estimation of RM90,000) of JARO’s yearly operating costs. That only covers two months of expenditure, so JARO’s Management Committee has to regularly seek out new ways of finding funding to keep the organisation going.” Donations are often solicited, through business organisations as well as the public. The Management Committee is also concentrated on increasing sales, finding new design ideas, buying the rough materials for the employees and finding new ways to promote the organisation to the public.

Listening to Lily Mustafa, 62, talk as she sews dainty stitches into a batik piece she is finishing, one understands why organisations like JARO are vital to the survival and dignity of those less able. “I’m a widow and since my husband passed away, this work has also allowed me to have some company, have a few laughs while being able to make some money so that I am not dependent on anyone financially. This is JARO’s gift to me.”

Visit JARO the next time you’re in Johor:

Address: 18, Jalan Sungei Chat, Johor Bahru
GPS: N1° 27' 48.3552" E103° 44' 26.5848"
Tel: 07-227 5632
Email: jarokraf@hotmail.com
Follow their Facebook
Open: Sun – Thurs, 8am – 5pm. Closed on public holidays.
Donations are very much welcome.

By Michelle Gunaselan
Photos by Vincent Paul Yong

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